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03 April, 2010

The Last Drive-In?

ARTICLE TITLE: The Last Drive-In?

It cannot be a secret to my regular readers that I have a special affinity for Drive-In theaters, and the type of films that used to be their staple product. Some of my fondest memories from childhood are associated with Drive-Ins, and I love going to the Drive-In to this day.

However, Drive-In’s are a dying breed, and have been since the ‘60’s. Many factors contributed to this decline, and I don’t intend for this to be an in-depth look at the socio-economic causes for the death of the Drive-In. Instead, I want to talk about the death of just one… my local Drive-In.
Three summers ago as I write these words, the speakers at Clermont Drive-In went silent forever, as they ended their last season. Many events played a part in the Clermont’s demise, from sagging attendance to skyrocketing property taxes, and the owners could no longer contest the issue. The knowledge that the Clermont’s neighbor, a large auto-racing venue, was interested in the property for development finally won out.

When the news came that this would be the Clermont’s final season, it brought home to me the fact that so many of these institutions have disappeared in recent years, as real estate development swallowed whole the large tracts of land required for even a single screen outdoor theater. To the best of my knowledge, there’s only one Drive-In still operating within an hour’s drive of my home.

Now, it had been several years since I’ve been to the Clermont, though it was a favorite Friday night ritual for my ex-wife and I. It was cheap; it was convenient; we could load up the car with our own drinks and food; and we could relax and enjoy the movies, much more comfortably than we could in an indoor theater. For me, the Drive-In experience was part of my childhood, part of my love for genre movies.

I’ve written previously here regarding some of my early Drive-In trips… how my older sister used to sneak my brother and I in hidden in the trunk, how the first time I saw Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was during an all-night horror-thon at the Atlantic Drive-In; and of how much I love the whole Drive-In culture. There’s so much to be said for the whole concept of the outdoor theater… the pleasure of relaxing under the stars, nestled close to someone special; the value of bringing your own snacks in with you, not having to fork over five bucks for a coke or three-fifty for a box of popcorn; the comfort attendant in watching the movie from your own enclosed space, rather than crammed into small theater seats surrounded by obnoxious strangers. In so many ways, it is the ultimate way to enjoy a movie… especially those Horror, Sci-Fi, and Exploitation movies that have long been the staple diet of the Drive-In nation.

Like many of the treasured memories of my younger days, the Drive-In is a rapidly disappearing landmark, receding into the distance of my rear-view mirror. That’s really too bad, because that robs future generations of one of the greatest simple pleasures of my youth, and robs me of yet another touchstone to happier times.

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